Bookmark and Share

Former Defense Secretary Robert S. McNamara captured on tape in 1971-1972 meetings with President Nixon and Henry Kissinger

Nixon's View: He is "a good man" and "a source of information"

Following the recent death of controversial former Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara, there has already been much analysis and commentary about his life, his term of government service under presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson, and in particular his role in the escalation of conflict in Southeast Asia and his management of the Vietnam War. (Click on the screen shot to the left to watch an excerpt of McNamara discussing his memoir In Retrospect: The Tragedy & Lessons of Vietnam during a 1995 interview with C-SPAN's Brian Lamb.)

During the two hour C-SPAN interview, Lamb asked McNamara about his relationship with the Nixon administration, and whether McNamara thought President Nixon and national security adviser Henry A. Kissinger handled the Vietnam War in an appropriate manner.

McNamara, who in the 2003 Academy Award-winning documentary The Fog of War stated "you never answer the question asked of you; you answer the question you wish had been asked of you", naturally avoided giving a direct answer to Lamb's question.

Instead, McNamara suggested that he remained on good terms with President Nixon and Henry Kissinger, and alluded to meetings that he participated in with them, after McNamara had become president of the World Bank. However, the actual recordings of those meetings have never been made available to the public in an easily accessible format, until now. These far-ranging conversations, which touched on Vietnam, tension in South Asia between India and Pakistan, the international monetary situation after the collapse of Bretton Woods, and other topics, are fully available below for the first time.

Listening to the two conversations from 1971 and 1972, one gets the sense that Nixon, Kissinger, and Treasury Secretary John B. Connally summoned McNamara to the White House simply to get his reading on a variety of potential flash points in contemporary world affairs. McNamara, who as the president of the World Bank was working in a non-political position at the time, was reserved in his commentary. Nixon clearly thought it was to his benefit to be seen with McNamara, which explains the presence of Nixon's official White House photographer at both meetings, as well as members of the Press at the second meeting.

When McNamara entered the familiar Oval Office on the morning of October 15, 1971, he exchanged warm greetings with President Nixon (mp3, 60k, :03). Also of interest, upon the conclusion of the second meeting, recorded in Nixon's private office in the Executive Office Building on February 8, 1972, Nixon and Connally agreed it was useful to talk to McNamara from time to time. Nixon and Connally further agreed (mp3, 285k, :18) that McNamara was "a good man", a "good student", who is "very compassionate", and "a source of information." 

To listen to the complete conversations, see below. A summary of the conversations has also been included.

The participants are as follows:

P = President Richard Nixon
APB = Assistant to the President Alexander P. Butterfield
HAK = Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs Henry A. Kissinger
JBC = Secretary of the Treasury John B. Connally
RLZ = Press Secretary Ronald L. Ziegler
RSMcN = World Bank President Robert S. McNamara
WHP = White House Photographer



Time Participants Audio


OVAL 593-010 10/15/1971 10:08 - 10:37 am P, JBC, HAK, RSMcN, WHP, APB mp3 (34.6m) pdf (24k)
EOB 320-028a 2/08/1972 3:15 - 5:06 pm P, JBC, RSMcN, HAK, WHP, Press, RLZ mp3 (59.6m) pdf (52k)
EOB 320-028b       mp3 (41.7m)  



Copyright 2007- |